L.S Lowry’s most expensive paintings seem to contrast with the imposing industrial landscapes for which he is well known. Football Match (1949) and Piccadilly Circus (1960), for example, both realised record prices on the secondary market when they went under the hammer, and Lowry prints remain steadily popular at auction.
Here we examine some more of Lowry's most valuable works:
Currently the joint most expensive painting by the artist at auction, The Football Match combines Lowry’s favourite artistic subject and his personal passion – the industrial landscape and football. Lowry was a supporter of Manchester City football club and brought his experiences of home games into this work, which depicts excited crowds at a Saturday afternoon football game.
When The Football Match was offered in Christie’s 20th Century British & Irish Art auction in London on 26 May 2011, the painting had not been seen in public for almost 20 years. It soared above its high estimate of £4.5 million and broke the previous record for a work by Lowry, set by Good Friday, Daisy Nook in 2007.
At a joint-first place for the most expensive Lowry painting at auction is Piccadilly Circus, which also achieved £5.6 million when it was offered at Christie’s 20th Century British & Irish Art Evening Sale in London on 16 November 2011 – nearly half a year after the sale of The Football Match. The painting had come to auction for the first time, after being hidden in the same private collection for 35 years. It was offered for auction again at Sotheby’s in London on 25 March 2014, where it sold for a slightly lower £5.1 million.
Lowry rarely painted London scenes and Piccadilly Circus is one of only two works to depict the landmark. The painting was formerly owned by entrepreneur Lord Forte and then A.J. Thompson, an esteemed collector who only bought works by Lowry.
Painted in 1956, A Northern Race Meeting depicts a crowd of people enjoying a day out at the racetrack. Although Lowry often depicted football matches, he seldom painted horse-racing – making this a rare work in the artist’s career. The painting was purchased shortly after it was created and had been on long-term loan to Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield since 1983.
When A Northern Race Meeting was offered at Christie’s in London on 19 November 2018, it was the star lot of the evening, achieving more than double its high estimate of £5.2 million.
Although Lowry once said “I only deal with poverty; always with gloom. You’ll never see a joyous picture of mine. I never do a jolly picture”, his portfolio does include festive works such as Good Friday, Daisy Nook, and his paintings of football matches.
Painted in 1946, Good Friday, Daisy Nook shows a crowd at the annual Easter fair at Daisy Nook, near Manchester. The scene is filled with post-war optimism and leisure, with children holding balloons and bright, multicoloured tents dotting the background. When this cheerful painting was offered at Christie’s in London on 8 June 2007, it soared past its high estimate of £1.5 million and set a new world auction record for Lowry at the time – which it held until The Football Match came to auction four years later.
Painted in 1953, Fun Fair at Daisy Nook is another depiction of the annual Easter fair. Like Good Friday, Daisy Nook, painted seven years earlier, the yellow tent of ‘Silcock Bros. Thriller’ fairground ride features clearly in the background of Fun Fair at Daisy Nook, and people of all ages wander in the foreground.
Fun Fair at Daisy Nook also comes from the Lord Forte Collection and was offered at Christie’s in London on 16 November 2011, where the work became the second-highest lot of the night.
Painted in 1928 when Lowry was 41 years old, Going To The Match was one of the artist’s earliest depictions of a rugby match and a sporting match in general. It had been hidden in the same private collection since 1972, making its first public appearance in close to 50 years when it was offered at Sotheby’s in London on 29 June 2021. It sold for £2,919,000.
Lowry's The Sea brings to the fore the serenity of the sea, its calm, rippling surface against a placid sky. But this oil on canvas also centres upon unpredictability, and how the tranquility of the sea could quickly transform into a violent tempest.
"It's the battle of life - the turbulence of the sea..." Lowry had articulated, before adding, "...but I often think...what if it suddenly changed its mind and didn't turn the tide? That would be the end of it all." The Sea sold for £2.7 million on 22 March 2022 at the Modern British Art Evening Sale at Christie's, London.
The Acme Spinning Company mill at Pendlebury is possibly Lowry’s most famous subject – yet, when The Mill, Pendlebury came to auction at Christie’s in London on 21 January 2020, it was considered a significant rediscovery. The painting had not been seen in public, or even recorded in publications, for over 70 years.
Lowry had sold The Mill, Pendlebury directly to the family of the late owner, Dr Leonard D. Hamilton, who later took it with him to the United States. The work only came to light again after the scientist’s death. Estimated between £700,000 and £1 million, The Mill, Pendlebury went on to become the star lot of the evening, achieving over double the expected price.
Another painting from the Lord Forte Collection, Industrial Landscape was the third-highest lot in Christie’s evening auction on 16 November 2011. The work features some of Lowry’s best-known motifs: a panoramic view of an industrial wasteland, with the skyline dominated by chimneys blowing out dark smoke and a contaminated river, coloured a murky grey. Tiny figures dot the foreground.
Lowry claimed he only used five colours in his paintings – vermillion red, ivory black, Prussian blue, yellow ochre and flake white – Industrial Landscape would prove this to be true.
“A street is not a street without people,” Lowry once said. A Town Square is a classic Lowry scene, transforming a mundane, everyday moment into a quiet, charming spectacle. Unlike Lowry’s iconic, but largely anonymous, little ‘matchstick men’, the characters in A Town Square are large enough to see their distinctive individual figures and expressive faces. The work, also formerly owned by collector A.J. Thompson, was the second-highest lot offered at Sotheby’s Lowry: The A.J. Thompson Collection evening auction on 25 March 2014.